Skip to main content

A Service’s journey of collaboration and support for authentic inclusion

23 June 2022

A Service’s journey of collaboration and support for authentic inclusion

At Okinja Early Learning Centre, both the staff and children are grateful to have had the honour and privilege of having Ruby as part of our family.

Ruby truly lit up the hearts of our Okinja community and demonstrated the importance of being inclusive but also taught the educators the value of diversity and choice. Ruby was diagnosed with Cockayne Syndrome Type 2 which is an incurable, inherited medical condition, primarily consisting of premature aging and failure to thrive. Ruby showed both the children and staff at Okinja the meaning and importance of inclusivity within our centre and how to authentically approach the differing needs of all children.

Ruby’s journey at Okinja Early Learning Centre began in 2018 when she started in the Nursery. During her time in Nursery, she won the hearts of her educators, but little did they know the impact that she would have. As time passed throughout the year, it became apparent that Ruby was not reaching her milestones like her friends were. Observations were documented strategies and learning opportunities provided to ensure that Ruby was striving towards meeting goals that aligned with her learning and development. At times it left the educators feeling overwhelmed and unsure how they would meet Ruby’s high ongoing support needs. Ruby was nonverbal, in a wheelchair and being fed via a PEG feeder. Educators watched Ruby’s friends, who were the same age as her, transition through the age-appropriate rooms without her. This was hard but they were not confident at the time for Ruby to move with her peers to the next room due to her high needs. Ruby’s family felt the same particularly with children running, jumping, and moving around both the indoor and outdoor environments. Ruby remained in the Nursery where educators felt confident they could meet her needs in a safe environment. Her same aged peers were in Junior Kindy.

At this time, the Centre Director, Kristy McKinnon, liaised with the staff at Inclusion Support QLD to discuss Ruby and her individual circumstances. Collaboratively with Ruby’s mum Ashleigh, they explained the value of inclusion not only for Ruby but also for her peers and educators. Discussions were had regarding what resources could be accessed to support the educators with such a significant transition for Ruby, including the use of Specialist Equipment and funding for an additional educator to increase the ratio within the environment. The Inclusion Professional worked closely with educators and Kristy to develop a Strategic Inclusion Plan. This was an opportunity for educators to identify the barriers to inclusion within the Junior Kindy environment and decide what the most appropriate strategies and resources were that would support the inclusion of all children, including Ruby with her same aged peers. With the support of Specialist Equipment, Inclusion Development Fund (IDF) funding for an additional educator and educators working collaboratively with their Inclusion Professional and therapists, Ruby transitioned to the Junior Kindy Room where she was able to participate alongside her same aged peers. Cherished friendships were formed between Ruby and her peers. Children learnt about different needs, different ways to communicate and most of all they learnt about inclusion. The Strategic Inclusion Plan continued to support educators in building their confidence with implementing inclusive strategies, guiding their practice, and sustaining such positive change.

From the moment Inclusion Support QLD were a part of supporting Okinja with Ruby’s inclusion, it was made a priority to ensure that she continued learning with her friends, including her cousin Maclean. Ruby transitioned between the different environments at the same time as her friends, all the way up to the kindergarten environment.

Kristy shared that “upon reflection, we never had to teach the children how to be inclusive, they just knew. They just knew because we never allowed Ruby’s differences to hinder her learning but made it a point to celebrate everyone’s differences.”

Sadly, we lost our precious Ruby in February 2022. We will never forget the lessons Ruby taught us. She will forever be remembered at her home Okinja Early Learning Centre. To celebrate Ruby’s legacy, we have now created ‘Ruby’s Room,’ ‘Ruby’s Garden’ and we acknowledge Rare Disease Day every year as ‘Ruby’s Day.’